This was such a big year in music The Falcon’s Nest was forced to expand our list of the Best Albums of 2013 and include 100 records representing the best the year had to offer, and what a year it was. Musical Icons David Bowie, Rod Stewart, and Paul McCartney all released fine new material this year, Americana Music was well represented with The Lone Bellow, The Staves, and Dawes all releasing fine albums.The Rock Chicks were on the prowl with Neko Case, Holly Williams, Brandy Clark, and Lucius all delivering the goods. And of course, there were a ton of new and exciting artists that made their presence known for the first time including Haim, Walker Lukens, Parquest Courts, and The Olms.
Rock of the harder variety is alive and well with Black Star Riders, Walking Papers, Andrew Stockdale, The Savages, and Wild Feathers. If your favorite album did not make the list it’s not that we didn’t like it, we just had to stop sometime.
In the meantime…………………………………………………………………….Let the debate begin.
Little Green Cars – Absolute Zero
Genre-splitting, sharing influences of Americana, Folk, Pop, and Laurel Canyon Cosmic Cowboy, along with a palate cleansing sorbet of Surfs Up era Beach Boys, the sound is pure California with a road trip to Austin thrown in for good measure, with just enough Brooklyn attitude added to the mix to keep things fresh, up-to-date, and vibrant. Much like a super model that also happens to have brains, there is much to appreciate beyond the surface from this album with repeated listens.
My preferred auditory method here was to give it a layered listen, with the first layer taking in the album experience as a whole, the second focusing on the playing and the instruments, the third layer was for a critical listen to the vocals and the harmonies, and finally a study of the lyrics. It was here at this fourth layer where I was most impressed, and is where all of the pieces came together to form one eargasmic whole.
The best Irish export since Guiness, Little Green Cars should be your new favorite band.
Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost
Sam Beam has done it again. The artist that is the driving force behind Iron & Wine putting out a delicious blend of understated vocals, sharp lyrics, and beautiful Indie Folk may have created his masterpiece with his latest effort, Ghost on Ghost. This time around, the touch is much lighter, with a softer, more intimate approach with almost of an early Van Morrison feel that is most evident on the opener, “Caught in the Briars.”
The album is tighter and a bit more polished than it’s predecessors, and has distinct jazz overtones that make this for a different sort of listen. The beautiful voice is still there, sounding a bit like Seals and Croft in places, and Harry Nilsson in others, and “The Desert Babbler” should become your go-to New Years Eve song from now on. This is a record that will make you feel happy and glad to be alive.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
With Modern Vampires of the City Ezra Koenig takes the Vampire ‘s sound to the next level by paring down the sound a bit, creating a sonic lansdcape that is a bit less bombastic than their previous efforts, and a whole lot more soul satisfying. The opening track “Obvious Bicycle” is a slow build sort of song, and a tasty bit of Orchestral Pop pie.
The distinct melodies are still there, and the organ drenched “Unbelievers” is as peppy a number as you probably have heard all year. One of the many beauties of this record, is the subtle stylistic changes that take place from song to song and on “Dianne Young” we get a bit of Fuzz guitar and a couple of gnarly surf guitar runs, with a touch of punk thrown in for good measure. It is one eargasmic rooler coaster ride. “Finger Back” is another up-tempo number, a drum-centric beat and organ extravaganza that seems to celebrate the joy of change, “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die.”
With “Hudson” we get a maturing Vampire Weekend on a lyrically and sonically dense song that gives a history of the Hudson Bay area in the span of about four minutes, and just may give us into a peak of what might be in store for the band in the next couple of years. Surprisingly thought provoking, Modern Vampires of the City is by far the best work yet from a band that is just getting started.
Arctic Monkeys – AM
One of the few albums you are going to see on “Best Of” lists for Pop, Rock, and Songwriter magazines and websites, AM plants their top 10 flag firmly in the ground with this enticing mix of Rock and Roll Black Keys style, R&B, a little Hip Hop, and some killer guitar riffs in the Black Sabbath mold. Queens of the Stoneage frontman Josh Homme shows up on the album, and seems to add a little bit of grit that was missing on prior albums, and the overall result is a completely satisfying record with a lot of swagger.
The opening stomp of the opener, “Do I Wanna Know,” set against a backdrop of a recently failed relationship paired with “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High represents the lover scorned portion of the album showing once again that love on the rocks always makes for great music and here, courtesy of Alex Turner’s recent break-up, his loss is our gain.
Beginning with their first album in 2006, each effort has been a bit more polished, and now five albums in, the Monkeys have definitely found their sweet spot. “Knee Socks,” has a distinct R&B feel, “Fireside” is to the core Brit Rock, and “Arabella” shows off Alex Turner’s range on a tune that seems to be from the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath school of rock. “Mad Sounds” is an understated beauty.
There is nothing not to like on this record, let’s just hope the band’s recent move to Los Angeles does not spoil a good thing, and if they don’t spend too much time with the guys from Dawes or Mumford and Sons, the sky is the limit for these mega talented blokes.
Walker Lukens – Devoted
If Harry Nilsson, Paul Simon, and Warren Zevon had a love child, his name would be Walker Lukens. This Austin settled, by way of Houston and New York City musician is that good, and with his new album Devoted he has manages to combine the raw, vulnerable musings of Nilsson, the pop sensibility of Simon, and the “on the edge” coolest guy in the room vibe of Warren at his Excitable Boy peak.
With the current Mumford-ization trend that is so popular in today’s musical landscape, it is somewhat of a refreshing change to find a record that is equally, if not more enjoyable than any of the recent releases by Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers, or Dawes, that does not make use of the trendy mandolin or dobra, a refreshing change that is worth the price of admission alone.
The Head and the Heart – Let’s Be Still
Recorded in Seattle and mixed in Bridgeport Connecticut, Let’s Be Still, the new release From The Head and the Heart is as welcome as the first fall day.
Their initial self titled release that featured the song “Lost in My Mind” was a stunner, and Let’s Be Still is proving to be no sophomore slump. The template is pure road trip California breezy pop which is never a bad thing. Their own kick-back, pastoral take on Americana Roots Rock they deliver here is unique and refreshing. The song “Another Story” is worth the price of admission alone.
Foy Vance – Joy of Nothing
A native of Bangor, Ireland and transplant to Oklahoma, Foy Vance has cemented himelf alongside David Gray and Damian Rice as one of the emotive singer songwriters du jour.
The title track is nothing less than stunning and the vocal turn with Bonnie Raitt on “You and I” is a nice touch, a cherry in your manhattan. Ed Sheeran appearing on the album is simply an added bonus on an already stellar work. This record will help you find your joie de vie.
Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Never one to put out a bad album, Middle Cyclone in 2009 was terrific, Neko Case certainly doesn’t dissapoint with The Worst Things Get. With a voice that is sounding more and more like Patsy Cline, mellowing somewhat over the years, Case delivers a set of emotionally raw songs that takes full advantage of her various rock personalities including indie rock Goddess, girl next door, and, vulnerable little girl lost.
There is an embarrasment of guesting riches here with M. Ward, Howie Geib, along with Members of Calexico, Los Lobos, and My Morning Jacket pitching in, and of course her BFF Kelly Hogan plays a promininant role throughout the album. All told, the rockers like “City Swans,” and “Man,” pound for songwriting pound the best song on the album, are strong, and the slow to mid-tempo songs stand on equal footing with “Night Still Comes” a stunning self-reflecting wonder.
The Delta Riggs – Hex.Lover.Killer
If you were born in a certain era, grew up in time when music was a lot more simple and basic, and have an affinity for Rock,Soul, Americana, and Motown, then The Delta Riggs is the band for you. Hex.Lover.Killer has it all. Killer riffs, the beloved Hammond B-3, up-tempo songs, and contemporary lyrics, this album is loaded for bear. From the Motown inspired “America,” with organ riffs that will curl your spine, to the more contemporay Black Keys by way of Jack White sounding “Perfume and Lace,” to the lay it down low and slow Tarantino vibe of “Naked,” there is a surprise around every corner. If you don’t like The Delta Riggs, you don’t like music.
Palma Violets – 180
Modern, yet vintage Brit Garage Rock. From the Jam to The Vaccines this is extremely tuneful basic Rock & Roll. “Step up For the Cool Cats” is one of the best named songs of the year and an organ drenched wonder, and “Johnny Bagga’ Donuts” is a Post Punk masterpiece. “Last of the Summer Wine” showcases what might be the Violet’s secret weapon, the keyboard stylings of Peter Mayhew. This psychedlic touch sets the London four piece apart from most of their Post Punk contempraries. The sound is just rough enough to be cool, and polished enough to keep the ears massaged. Think Nick Cave fronting The Ramones and you would be close to nailing the vibe.
Those Darlins – Blur the Line
On the very short list for album cover of the year, four naked bodies of various genders fondling each other, those darlins create an intoxicating mix of Country Garage, Low-Fi, Redneck Noir, and Indie Pop, and we’re not kidding. If you are not a believer just listen to the opening lyrics of the opening song, “Oh God.”
“I was a drunk girl in the shower, in yet another shit hotel I could have been just anywhere.”
And so begins the narratives that are spun around life on the road, failed relationships, drunk mothers, and compulsive relationships that drives one to drink, all against a Lucinda Williams meets Brill Building girl group template with a distinct 60’s vibe in places, Tusk era Fleetwood Mac on others, with a side order of The Pretenders thrown in for good measure.
While they may have lost a bit of the luster and newness that they demonstrated with their 2011 release, Screws Get Loose, this newer less garage rock sounding effort is a bit more polished and atmospheric in sound with some really strong songs. “Ain’t Afraid” could be a Patsy Cline Honky Tonk classic, it has that 50’s classic country feel, and “Can’t Think” could have been a Bangles Song. “Drive” is a Lemonheads sounding pop gem, and is that perfect song for that Autumn tip to nowhere.
Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God
Released in 2009, the first solo effort by My Morning Jacket front man Jim James was an album of George Harrison covers. This time out with Regions of Light, and Sound of God the results are not quite as focused, but certainly are more compeling.
With an over arching spiritual bent to each offering, James mixes early sixties doo wop with jazz overtones and touches of electronica to create one heck of an interesting soundscape.
Featuured track, a “A New Life,” has a definite George Harrison quality about it, and “Of the Mother Again” is funky soul at its finest. Repeated listenings of this album will put you in a sort of zen like psychedlic haze, a pleasant one, but a haze none the less. Consider yourself for-warned.
Todd Clouser – A Love Electric: The Naked Beat
Not that the Mumford-ization of the current landscape is necessarily a bad thing, but it is refreshing to listen to a record without a banjo, with a musical sensibility that is not dependent on clever lyrics to be good, and is just downright fun, and the latest Todd Clouser release The Naked Beat is just that record.
Recorded live with limited over dubs in Woodstock, Clouser has put together a distinctly jazz influenced band to create an album that has spectral overtones of Funk,Jazz,R&B, 70′s pop, and present day Post Punk, complete with a dynamic front man.
“Wake and Shake Your Heart” has a bit of an REM meets Replacements feel with Clouser’s deep almost guttural voice drifting into Nick Cave territory in some places, and Michael Hutchence in others. “Hollow Ego” showcases the spirited horn arrangements that pepper this album and don’t over blast and swallow the proceedings, but rather provide a peppy texture that brings that fun element to the songs, and “War Pigs”, yes that War Pigs, the Black Sabbath War Pigs, is turned on its heavy metal ear with this fascinating jazz improvisational and spoken word version.
You never know what to expect from song to song on this record, which is a very good thing. Every turn in the road leads to an ear pleasing, one of a kind, pot of gold soul satisfying listen.
Haim – One of These Days
One of the most anticipated albums of the year, Days are Gone, by sibling rock trio Haim is one of the best retro time machine trips you will take all year, this time 80’s style. Alana Haim, Danielle Haim, and Este Haim, sisters that have known each other since birth, use the sibling chemistry to perfection on almost pitch perfect vintage sounding nuggets evoking Stevie Nicks, Shania Twain, Janet Jackson, and The Bangles. The girls play their own instruments, and their latest single “The Wire” has a bit of Eagles “Heartache Tonight about it.
Sure the synths are there, and there is a bit of Culture club thrown in along the way, but don’t hold that against them. It’s a lot of fun. Polished to a pure pop sheen, the album was five years in the making, and the girls cancelled a recent tour to spend some more time in the studio to get the album just right, and to make sure their vision remained intact.
“Honey and I” is a song that later era Fleetwood Mac could have recorded if Christine McVie was still with the band, and features singer Danielle Haim in fine lead vocal voice, with her sisters complementing her perfectly. Classic Rock purists will LOVE this song, and that is no rumour, it is fact. “Fallen” the lead track on the record has a distinct Janet Jackson joie de vie about it and is a lot of fun, and “Let Me Go” is a mature break up song that pretty much rocks and features some of the best songwriting on the album along with some dynamite guitar licks. All of the songs are written or co-written by the sisters.
At the end of the day, this is pretty much a perfect album. The pop-centric crowd will like the 70’s and 80’s influences, the singer song writer bunch will appreciate the songcraft, and the rest of us will just enjoy the ride.
This is one of the best albums of the year that will get better with each listen.
Family of the Year – Loma Vista
It is a rare thing indeed when an artist can draw from several influences including some that were never cool in the first place without coming across as dated, but Family of the Year does just that on the supremely excellent album Loma Vista. The Los Angeles based four piece has been around in some form since 2009 and judging by this listen has spent the time very wisely in creating a sound that draws upon the Mumfordization so prevalent in the current music scene, while using several brushes of Fleet Foxes with later Tusk era Fleetwood Mac as well as a myriad of other influences, and it works to perfection.
The album kicks off with “Stairs,” a Laurel Canyon sounding harmonic delight to the ears, followed quickly by the epic sounding “Diversity” that starts off sounding like it could be on a Yes album and ends in Polyphonic Spree Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros territory, and no I am not kidding. “Hero” allows singer songwriter Joe Keefe an opportunity to slow things down showing his tender side while the band that includes his brother Sebastian on drums does their best Dawes impersonation with angelic Beach Boys harmonies in the background. This studio version is miles better than the recent late night television version they performed.
If you are scoring at home the influences on display here include Yes, Mamas and Papas, Beach Boys Pet Sounds era Beach Boys Holland era Beach Boys, Bay City Rollers, Fleetwood Mac Tusk era, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Genesis, Polyphonic Spree, Dawes, Munford and Sons, and pretty much every other band you like.
Jim James may have produced the album of the year, and Foxygen has caused you to pull all of your Velvet Underground albums from your record collection and listen to them for the first time in decades, but Family of the Year will provide you with the most pure joy. buy it now, you will be glad you did.
Matt Costa – Matt Costa
Don’t let the fact that Matt Costa records on Jack Johnson’s Brushfire records fool you, this is no Surf-Pop record. In fact, with his late 60’s early 70’s retro tinged Donovon meets The Lovin’ Spoonful vibe, he probably could have recorded on Apple Records back in the day.
The opener, “Loving You” with the orchestral intro and Donovan by way of ELO DNA is about as strong an opening salvo as any put to vinyl this year.
“Shotgun” flows into Marc Bolan and T. Rex territory, and with the brisk organ work, layered vocal turns and spooky background vocals, could have been on Elo’s Eldorado album. On “Early November,” he goes all Burt Bacharach on us complete with mariachi horns. “Walls Like Windows” Should have been a Stephen Stills song sung by The Everly Brothers.
Unless you listen very closely, it is hard to tell that this bloke is not from across the pond, and comparisons to Donovan are inevitible, just listen to “Laura Lee.” Weaned on British invasion nuggets, Matt Costa has created his masterpiece.
Free Energy – Love Signs
Seventeen seconds into the song “Electric Fever”, the opening track on the fine new album Love Sign by Philadelphia stalwarts Free Energy, you hear it loud and proud. You may not have had me at hello, but you definitely had me at the cowbell, and this J. Geils inspired song rattles the chains, rocks like it’s 1974, and announces that coming off their 2010 James Murphy produced Stuck on Nothing, the boys are definitely back in town complete with cowbell and a Thin Lizzy style dual guitar attack.
Summed up in 10 nice and tidy hook-laden gems, every song will take you back to any of a number of your favorite rock bands circa 1973 to 1979. Whether it be Cheap Trick, J. Geils, or Steppenwolf, the retro scent permeates the record like an over generous dousing of Hai Karate.
These guys emulate more than imitate, and put their own energy and spin on anthems like “Girls Want Rock,” and the more ballad-ish “Dance All Night,” that comes across as a little bit of a fish out of water here but actually works in much the same way as “Voices” worked among the rockers on Cheap Trick’s Dream Police.
The Police style polishing sheen is added with a little bit of synth-pop on “True Love,” and the jangle rock is sprinkled in on “Street Survivor” courtesy of producer John Agnello who also did the knob twirling for Dinosaur Jr. This is a best of both worlds type of listen, wearing an old retro-school fedora with cool indie-pop shades.
Jonathan Wilson – Fanfare
One of the most warm and inviting albums of the year, Fanfare takes you for a Laurel Canyoyn drive along the Cosmic Cowboy highway. A record that wouyld have fit right in with Stephen Stills Manassas, or CSN &Y’s Deja Vue, with touches of Electric Light Orchestra, and Pink Floyd, this is the retro listen of the year by a large margin.
With a stellar cast of contributors including David Crosby, Gram Nash, and Jackson Browne, J.D. Souther and Linda Ronstadt are about the only early 70’s soft rock icons missing.
“Love to love” is a great driving song and would be the perfect soundtrack for driving along highway 1 with the roof down, and “New Mexico” could very easily be a David Gilmour single. The psychedelic element definitely rears its lava lamp head here, but it never seems to over salt the meal. Overall this is a put on your headphones magic carpet ride for the ages and shares a slose kinship to Dennis Wilson’s Pacific Ocean Blue.
Jason Isbell – Southeastern
As member of the Southern Noir, Soul-Country band The Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbel was an old hand at creating the raucous brand of Rock and Roll that along with The North Mississippi All-Stars and Kings of Leon was setting the template for the new brand of Southern rock.
With Southestern, the formula is turned on its ear a bit with a sound that is more on the singer songwriter spectrum with a lyrics count sort of sensibility.
The arrangements are mostly sparce and moody with tales poignantly told about new sobriety, lost weekends, and finding your true love. “Cover Me Up,” might be the best love song of the year. “Leave your boots by the bed we aint leaving this room unless someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom .”
The song “Stockholm” is a mid-tempo song that is a turning the page type of number, and combined with “Travelling Alone” we get a one-two punch of odes to getting your life together and coming home. I dare you not to be touched by “Elephant,” a song that takes the ravages of cancer head on. Taken as a whole, this is Jason Isbell’s finest solo effort, an inspirational listen, and one of the very best albums of the year.
Sturgill Simpson – High Top Mountain
High Top Mountain, the impressive new album by Country Singer Sturgill Simpson, is the best Outlaw Country throwback album released in years, and would have fit right in with Willie’s Red Headed Stranger, Waylon’s Dreaming My Dreams, and the Mighty Merle Classic, Back to the Barrooms.
This guy is that old school, that true, and that damn good. The opening track “Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean” sets the template for 12 tracks of superb playing and true-life story lines, with Sturgill himself telling you what he thinks of all of the outlaw hoopla that is starting to envelop and mostly overtake his career, “The most outlaw thing that I’ve ever done is give a girl a ring, life ain’t fair and the world is mean.”
All roads on this album seem to flow back to Waylon Jennings, with Simpson vocally sounding like a cross between Jennings and Jamey Johnson, with a touch of the rascal thrown in with some Hank Williams Jr. phrasing along the way. Unlike many of the albums released in the immediate wake of the seminal Outlaw Country album, Honky Tonk Heroes, there is not a weak throw-in, sell-out apple in this barrel. Every song on the record was written by Sturgill himself, unlike the hits on most of Waylon’s records, and Sturgill sings every tune like the devil is on his tail and it is the last song he will ever sing.
Robbie Fulks – Gone Away Backward
From the opening chords of “I’ll Trade You Money For Wine,” the first track on Gone Away Backward, you are immediately taken back in time to “Man of Constant Sorrow” territory, with that same semi-mournful, almost other-worldly atmosphere that is created with the lyrics and musical accompaniment. It is a strong opening salvo that sets the stage just about perfectly.
They say you can’t go home again, but Fulks does just that thematically throughout this album, and often to devastatingly poignant results. His searing, to the bone songwriting on songs such as “Where I fell,” that manages to cover selling the family store, having a job outsourced to Bombay, and the river that he would fish in with his father as a child that was too polluted to swim, all in the first two minutes of the song. The vibe here, which also carries through the rest of the album, is old school Phil Ochs and Woody Guthrie with a chaser of newer school James McMurtry.
Much like a bagpipe, a little banjo can go a long way, but somehow the Appalachian hillbilly tone that is set on the banjo-noir tune “Long I Ride” works, and works well, and after a lyrics focusing listen, I was hooked.
“its rye grass in the winter time, flowers in the spring, but Texas in the summer is now un-suffering, now on up in Jackson Hill in a diner I sat down, and I waved at every stranger just to move the air around.”
I live in Texas, transplanted from California, and truer words have rarely been spoken. Take a serious listen to this song, a genius at work.
“That’s Where I’m From” is the straw that stirs the drink here. It is a devastatingly honest song that will tell you about all you need to know about this album. Time passes slower where Robbie Fulks is from.
“Two Cars, a picket fence, that’s where I come, dirt roads and double wides that’s where I’m from”
Daft Punk – Random Access Memory
With Daft Punk’s first non soundtrack since 2005, we are treated to a record of music the way it is supposed to be, and the message of the entire album can be summed up with the first track, “Give Life Back to Music,” and Random Access Memory does just that.
A delicious blend of 70’s and 80’s throwback, anthemic dance numbers with special guests Chic frontman Nile Rodgers, and Giorgio Moroder himself, appears on “Giorgio by Moroder” for that added air of authenticity.
With an ear to the past and two feet firmly planted on the EDM sounds of the day terra firma, “Get Lucky” was the summer smash of the year, and “Lose Yourself to Dance” is a no brainer, party like it’s 2013 toe tapper, Prince inspired this feelgood romp. Sure Random Access Memory is the best dance record of the year. But don’t sell it short. It is also one of the very best overall albums of 2013.
Minor Alps – Get There
When a group that seems to be the Indie Rock equivalent of Buckingham Nicks, our ears perk up in anticipation, and that is exactly what we get from jump street with Get There, the debut album from Minor Alps.
With Matt Caws of Nada Surf playing the Buckinham role, and Juliana Hatfield chanelling her inner Stevie Nicks, this is an album that Fleetwood Mac would have made if they had been formed in the new millenium instead of the late 70’s.
The duet vocals work to perfection right alongside the harmonies, with each artist sharing the lead on different tracks. “I Don’t Know What To Do With My Hands” turns the pop up to rock a bit and shows off the guitar skills, and “Buried Plans” is a bit on the “Shadow Captain” side.
Musically, Minor Alps walks the neo Laurel Canyon, Cosmic Cowboy sound that is all the rage these days with Dawes, Mumford and Sons, and others, but also shows their ability to step out and stretch their harder edged chops. “Far From the Roses” is a masterful symphonic, brilliantly textured song that would be perfect for a summer drive, and “If I Wanted Trouble” displays the absolute chemistry of the two artists showing the collaboration is just as strong on the songwriting front as it is vocally.
If you buy the Haim record before you buy this one, you should have your head examined.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind
The second full length album from the first couple of Blues Rock, this time around the focus is on the inspirations that have shaped the band. A little bit of Stax, a touch of Motown, and a lot of Delaney and Bonnie style blues, this effort should earn them blues band of the year.
Tedeschi’s voice is a strong suit here, and the title track opener shows off her back of the barroom pipes in fine fashion. Derek Trucks is coming into his own as one of the best ax players in the business, and with the addition of some horns, an extra drummer, and guest spots courtesy of Doyle Bramhall II, Gary Louris, and John Leventhal, he is proving himself to be a band leader of the finest order as well. “Part of Me” is a highlight here that is inspired by the early Motown years where Tedeshi shares the microphone with Saunders Sermons, and “Whiskey Legs” is about as grimy and bluesy as it gets. Play this one back to back with The North Mississippi All Stars new record, and you just might go southbound just to listen to the music.
The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
The Civil Wars are no more, and this is a bad thing. The silver lining here is that we are left with one heck of a break up album. Joy Williams and Jon Paul White don’t seem to be able to work out their personal and professional differences. “I Had Me a Girl,” and “The One That Got Away,” are two of the spoils of this real life civil war. Better than Barton Hollow, the hamonies are a tad tighter, and the songs more personal, there is a hole in the Americana quilt without the Civil Wars.
Phosphorescent – Muchacho
When early in your career you are compared favorably to Bob Dylan and Will Oldham, and The London Standard declares you the most significant American in your field since Kurt Cobain, the expectations are certainly high, and by all accounts Matthew Houck, who performs and records as Phosphorescent, with his latest release Muchacho is up for the challenge.
With six albums now under his belt including a tribute album to Willie Nelson in 2009, this latest one stands head and phosphorescent shoulders above the rest.
Riding the Indie Country see-saw this time around, Houck seems to be leaning more to the Indie Americana side of the country spectrum. The intro “Sun,Arise,” and the outro “Sun’s Arising,” are the opening and closing tracks, and are two pretty unnecessary tracks in an otherwise very fullfilling sandwich, so skip over these.
“Song for Zulu” is one of the best songs of 2013, and is an atmospheric marvel using electronic drums and over dubs to set the scene for the moody vocals. The album taken in it’s entirety seems to be a perfect fit for a Western movie soundtrack, complete with cool Western noir track names like “Terror in the Canyons” that could have been in the Gram Parsons library, and “A Charm/A Blade” a beautiful multiple harmony number in the Crosby/Stills/Nash mold. Major props are also given for the leaving up to the imagination the three way on the album cover.
This is a stunning record that gets increasingly better with multiple listens.
Son Volt – Honky Tonk
We are treated to the first album in four years from the band that was formed from the ashes of Wilco. No real new territory is forged here, just good old classic Americana gold. A sublime mix of acoustic and Honky Tonk songs, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Tim Easton – Not Cool
An Americana singer songwriter with a soul right out of Sun Records. With a voice that floats between the man in black himself and Roy Orbison, this album is pure fun. From name checking Elmore James on “Little Doggie (1962)” to “Troubled Times” that has a bit of a Rock-A-Billy meets The Righteous Brothers vibe, every song is a charmer. The New Grass flavor sprinkled selectively throughout gives the album a contemporary feel, and the song “Crazy Motherf*cker From Shelby, Ohio” pretty much tells it like it is.
Raised in Akron, Ohio growing up influenced by The Beatles, Kiss, Doc Watson, and John Prine, Tim Easton left to pursue his dreams in Nashville starting out in a rock band before gradually honing his style to take adavantage of all the disparate styles of music floating around his adopted city.
Not Cool is very cool. The songwriting is first rate and with Easton painting aural pictures worthy of an Elmore Leonard novel the story telling is tight and observant. The upright bass and the vintage sounding guitar give the proceedings that certain air of authenticity, and with songs like the instrumental “Knock out Roses (For Levon)” we get the sense of an artist that has all of his priorities in the right place.
Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
Taking a break from The Fiery Furnaces, the band that she fronts with her brother, Eleanor Friedberger proves that she is a force of nature on her own.
Each song sounding more confident that the last the album has elements of Pop, Reggae, 60’s Girl Group and present day Indie Pop. Vocally she comes somewhere between Neko Case and Zooey, this album should make her an Indie darling in her own right.
Ulysses – Kill You Again
A good old 70’s Classic Rock album showing bell bottom influences of T Rex, Thin Lizzy, and a little Genesis progressive rock to keep things interesting.
This album proves rock is not dead, it is just harder to find.
Futurebirds – Baba Yaga
With a distinct My Morning Jacket sound, Baba Yaga is a cosmic ear candy listen. Blending catchy tunes, sharp lyrics and layered sonic textures, this is a warm listen.
The music is intense and uplifting and a perfect headphone listening experience.
Moreland & Arbuckle – 7 Cities
Delta Blues band Moreland & Arbuckle are two Blues aficionados, Aaron Morland with his super funky cigar box guitars, and Dustin Arbuckle on harmonica and vocals. Their sound combines the gritty sound of the delta with some foot stomping Black Keys, and early days ZZ Top style rock. Six albums in with 7 Cities, their latest full-length, with the addition of new drummer Kendall Newby, and some hair on your chest production courtesy of Matt Bayles who has worked with Mastadon among others, this band is ready to rock your world. “Tall Boogie”, is a show stopper, “Road Blind”, is a driving tune extraordinaire, and “Waste Away” will take you back to simpler Rock & Roll times.
The comparisons with ZZ top for this band would not be too over blown here especially on the “La Grange” style “Tall Boogie”. It is only when the band dials it down a notch on a couple of the ballads that they stray a bit like they do on “Broken Sunshine” where they sound a bit like Hootie and the Blowfish, but don’t panic, only a tiny, tiny bit.
This record is very much worth spending some ear time with, the sound is so vintage it sounds fresh, and there are not a lot of bands doing this anymore.
Paul McCartney – New
Musical Icons Cher, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Elton John, and now Paul McCartney have all released new albums in 2013, and Sir Paul’s latest appropriately named album New is the best of the lot.
His first record since Memory Almost Full in 2007, this time he has produced a song set that is arguably his best post Wings work, every song is better than “Silly Love Songs,” and has a distinct Red Rose Speedway feel. Increasing the hip, contemporary factor, Paul has employed Ethan Johns and Mark Johnson along with Giles Martin, the son of fifth Beatle George Martin, for production duties.
The result of it all is a very enjoyable listen from an artist that just keeps on giving.
Wild Feathers – Wild Feathers
A strong debut effort that evokes The Black Crowes. Opening for such acts as Paul Simon and Willie Nelson, This Americana Southern Boogie Rock band should be around for a long time.
As one paticular scribe put it, they chase the beat like their ass hairs are on fire.
Will Hoge – Never Give In
A song-smith in the Springsteen,Mellencamp mold Hoge delivers the goods with this new set straight up Rock and Roll Americana Roots Rock style with a country twang.
The guitar playing is stellar, and the storytelling is everyman first-rate.
My Darling Clementine – The Reconciliation?
Two albums in, Michael Weston King and Lou Dagleish, collectively known as husband and wife country duo My Darling Clementine, have definitely found their groove, and have avoided the dreaded sophomore slump with their new release, The Reconciliation.
With a country tinged Americana sound that evokes the best of the old soul country duos George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Johnny and June, Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood and others, harmonies are front and center on twelve songs that bring you into a world of fractured relationships, cheating partners, and tortured souls.
Far from a novelty act, there is enough talent here to fill the Grand Old Opry several times over. All but one of the songs were penned by the duo, and the songwriting is contemporary and poignant, taking you into the bars, ballrooms, and bedrooms of one of the most interesting cast of characters this side of an episode of Revenge .
Kinky Friedman, in something of an unusual role for him, lends his vocal talents to the opener “Unhappily Ever After,” a 70’s Country-Noir storytelling special where he sings the role of a judge asked to adjudicate in song the ying and yang of the disparate observations of a neglected relationship that has lost it’s spark. The three voices are interwoven to perfection in a he said, she said, Kinky said narrative, with Friedman taking the lower registers. There is a distinct message here in this cautionary tale of a song.
“No Heart in This Heartache” is a tear in your beer tale of a cheating spouse with Dagliesh playing the scorned lover Tammy Wynette role to ear-popping perfection. “Our Race is Run” is another relationship gone wrong song, this time with some delicious Stax style horns to accent the drama filled lyrical content with something of a mournful wail. The best of the lot may be “Leave the Good Book on the Shelf,” a wild hair sort of tune that mixes Bob Wills honky-tonk with Jerry Lee Lewis piano and Emmy Lou vocals.
If you are a lover of the classic country duets, this is a must listen for you. If you are a lover of music in general, fine songwriting, and a fresh and unique take on country classics, you have come to the right place, and if you are eager to experience new bands with an eye to the future and a ear in the past, search no more. Your ship has come In.
Thorcraft Cobra – Count it In
What’s not to like about this Canadian Rock Duo? After all they take their band name from an amplifier (cool fact number one), they are Canadian (cool fact number two), and they have a female drummer (cool fact number 3). The new album, Thorcraft Cobra, straddles that fine line between rock and Indie pop with aplomb, with the requisite jangle guitars certainly present, offset with a bit of Alternative Punk influence that gives this record a nice edge. The band has figured out a way to combine radio-friendly hooks with classic guitar riffs in a Big Star sort of way.
The song “Party Clock” has a sort of Pink Floyd feel to it, while “Count Me Out” is a straight ahead rocker with a political tinge to the song, and “I’m Not Sorry” is a delicate, little – my head just don’t feel right, what did I do last night – sort of a song that demonstrates the harmonic chemistry between the two artists.
Count it In, is one of those records that grows on you. The alternating of the edgier, rockier songs, with the ballads makes it a good Saturday afternoon listen and helps make that acoustical decision a much easier task much in a Chick Flick vs. Action movie sort of way.
North Mississippi Allstars – World Boogie is Coming
Extra points given of course for having the word Boogie in the title, a new album by The North Mississippi All-Stars is always refreshing and most welcome. These guys are the real deal, and the ultimate purveyors of good-old school Delta Blues Rock & Roll.
Give the song “Goat Meat” a whirl, and you will immediately be transferred to a dust on the floor, no airconditioning, shack of a bar somewhere or anywhere in the Mississippi delta. The harmonica simply wails, and the vocals are deep and honest. The album tittle comes from one of their father Jim Dickinson’s favorite blessings, and son Luther Dickinson who literally learned at the feet of R.L. Burnside following a short hiatus after Luther’s death has put together an almost perfect blues album.
Each track combines an intoxicating combination of old and new blues, and includes some archival field recordings of Burnside and Othar Turner, and turns them into Led Zeppelin style bombastic, power stomp epics. “Meet Me in the City,” should be the blues song of the year, and “My Babe” has a slide guitar that would make Duane Allman wish he wore a helmet. After listening to this record you will feel older.
But no worries, you will also be much wiser.
Lucius – Wildewoman
This Brooklyn based Indie Pop band grabs your earlobes and demands attention with the opening hamonies on “Wildewoman,” the title track of their fine new release. Part Mama’s and Papa’s, these gals are the female version of Crosby-Nash.
Far less polished, and that is a very good thing, than the Haim album, this record has a Laurel Canyon meets 6o-’s girl group flavor to it, and is more Bangles than Go Go’s. On “Go Home, the vocal chords are stretched to back of the bar room perfection. “Two of Us on the Run,” is a simplistic beauty, and “Monsters” takes you back to the 50′s. Lucius is what Simon and Garfunkel would have sounded like had they been women releasing an album in 2013.
The rest of the band almost goes unnoticed in the sea of hamonic convergance, but they are top notch in their own right, and as a quintent all the oars are in the water in perfect synchronicity. There is enough synthesizer in the songs to give them a bit of hip danceability, element, and the songwriting is top-notch. This girl group with a little bit of soul deserves to be on your radar.
The 1975 – The 1975
This band with the decidely retro name, has a distinct contemporay sound that is buried in the new millenium with a nod and a wink to the psychedlic glam rock of yesteryear. Think LCD Soundsystem meets Vampire Weekend with a touch of Glam thrown in for good measure, and you pretty much have the formula. “Sex” is the best song U2 never recorded, and “Chocolate” is just pure fun. It is hard not to enjoy this band, and this album.
Brandy Clark – 12 Stories
Brandy Clark might not be the savior of Country music, but her return to old school country songwriting style and WTF attitude will certainly earn her a whole lot of fans. With 12 Stories, an effort that just might be the best Outlaw Country record this side of Shooter Jennings, we are treated to a someone did somebody wrong piece of Cosmopolitan Country pie that hasn’t been served up since Loretta Lynne and Tammy Wynette were slicing up ex-husbands.
In 12 highly relatable tunes tunes, the listener is engulfed in a world of weed smoking housewives on “Get High,” the possibility of cheating with “What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven,” and the joys of self medication on “Take a Little Pill.”
The day to day of the finality of divorced is detailed on “The Day She Got Divorced,” and the ultimate solution is contemplated and then rejected when she decides she does not want to kill her husband because she doesn’t look good in orange, a picture she paints to perfection on “Stripes,” a tune that is one of the best songs of the year, any genre.
There seems to be a level of acceptance in all of these tales and a sense that there are some very good times just around the corner. It just might take a bit more booze, a few more pills, and some killer weed to get there.
Born Ruffians – Birthmarks
Primarily on the strength of “Needle,” the monster hit from the album, this record zoomed into your conciousness, but don’t stop there. This is a fun slice of Indy Pop pie with catchy hooks, jangle guitars, bouncy vocals, and clever songwriting. Much more accesible than their early albums, Birthmarks will make you a fan.
Rhye – Woman
This is a guilty pleasure if there ever was one. Despite the sensuous atmosperic mood seting aura that they create, and their angelic float in the clouds vocals, Rye is actually a band consisting of two males. The songs, including the stunning opener “Open,” are all mid to lower tempo songs that drift and sway in the breeze like your favorite hammock.
Somewhere between The Bee Gees, Marvin Gaye, and the best of the Al Green love songs, this album will work better than a date rape drug in getting you laid.
Steve Earl and the Dukes (And Duchesses) – The Low Highway
One of the hardest working guys in show business Steve Earle has followed up his role in The Wire, and his stunningly good performance on HBO’s Treme, to deliver another fine set of poignant and timely everyman songs with his latest, The Low Highway.
An album that can be considered somewhat of a road record, with “Love’s Gonna Blow My Way” with a real travelogue feel, and the up-beat vibe of “After “Mardi Gras,” that even has evokes a bit of The Good Dr. John himself, carrying the heavy load on a set of tunes that just might be his most reflective, least political effort to date. “Remember Me,” is about as strong a closing statement as you can make.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers – Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers
That deliciously eclectic mix of Blues, Rock and Americana, Nicki Bluhm could be the love child of Grace Potter, Bonnie Raitt, and Lucinda Williams, if all three of them had a three-way. The writing is edgy, and in your face, with personal lyrics like “I knew you from the day my door got kicked in,” setting the stage for tragedy and redemption at every turn.
The band is first rate, and with ear friendly songs like “Ravenous,” that has an almost Stevie Nicks quality about it, these guys are poised to have a breakout 2014.
With their collective influences of 60’s 70’s and psychedelic rock written on their sleeves, Foxygen has delivered the best retro album of the year.
Hooks abound with Glam, 70’s, Power Pop, 80’s Brit Rock and more all presented with a fresh of-the-day energy that makes it an exciting listen without coming across as nostalgic.
For much of his solo career, due to a contact dispute of epic proportions, John Fogerty was unable to play many of the songs he had written in a live performances, until finally in 2004 he was able to play his old Creedence Clearwater hits, and ultimately reclaimed his own legacy. And now, with Wrote a Song For Everyone, he revisits his old songs by enlisting the help of few of his famous friends. Personally contacting each artist involved in the project, and allowing them to choose the song they wanted to cover, the were both eclectic, and not always straightforward.
Some of the hits are here but not all, and some lesser known gems including “Someday Never Comes” covered by Dawes, and “Almost Saturday Night” from Keith Urban with some scorching guitar work. The real highlights in the set are the made it their own “Long as I Can See the Light” from My Morning Jacket, the Kid Rock version of “Born on the Bayou,” and a dynamite rendition of “Who’ll Stop the Rain” courtesy of a Bob Seger collaboration. “Mystic Highway,” another song written for the new record, is probabably the best driving tune of 2013. Crank it up and see for yourself.
The real joy of this set is hearing John Fogerty solo on “Train of Fools,” one of two new songs on the album, and with his two sons Shane and Tyler sharing the spotlight with their father on a swampy groove laden version of Lodi. Listening to the entire album in one sitting reminds you of what a great band Creedence Clearwater was back in the day, and how vastly underrated John Fogerty is both as an artist and as a songwriter.
Now that Conor Oberst has gone undercover and taken his Bright Eyes persona with him, Brett Dennen might be the reigning Prince of Indie Pop, are you listening Matthew Sweet? With a high pitched voice that floats somewhere between Christopher Cross and Neil Young, this pop wunder-kid seems to be incapable of making a song, or an album that does not make you smile, and Smoke and Mirrors is one of his best.
“Wild Child,” the ode to finding the wild times and feeling the sunshine, is pure Tom Petty with a helium enhanced Neil Young on vocals, and is in a word, delicious. The ode to youth, “When We Were Young” is a snappy song that advises us to never grow old, and is a driving, anthemic, sing-a-long. Dennen’s voice is somewhat of an acquired taste, but the the good news is that it only takes about a song or two to level set your ears to the youthful, higher toned cadence. And trust me, the extra effort is worth it.
The production is sometimes sparse, other times bouncy, with a warm and delicate atmopshere that just makes you feel good. In addition to Smoke and Mirrors, the entirety of Brett Dennen’s catalogue is worthy of a look see, with the 2008 release Hope For the Hopeless probably the best of the lot.
Colin Gilmore – The Wild and Hollow
When you are the son of Big Lebowski star and member of the iconic Flatlanders squad Jimmie Dale Gilmore, the bar for success is set really high, and with The Wild and Hollow, the latest release from Colin Gilmore, the results are in, and the apple certainly does not fall from the talent tree.
The real good news here is that Gilmore the younger has a dusting, but thankfully lacks much of the full on warble of a singing voice that his famous father has, which means he should be more successfull as a solo act. Considered to be sort of a West Texas Nick Lowe, his style is easygoing and conversational, and has been compared favorably to Woody Guthrie or a very young Bob Dylan.
When you grow up in the barrooms and honky tonks of West Texas, you can’t help but be authentic, and with songs like “Wake Me in the Night” and “Warm Days Love” he keeps it real much in the Townes Van Zandt mold. This record is an undiscovered gem, and while his following may be only of the cult variety at this time, by listening to this album, you too, will be able to say you knew him when.
Mikal Cronin – MCII
With an Indie Rock sensibility that goes back to the ramshackle sound of The Replacements paired with the more Jangle Pop influences of the late 90′s, Mikal Cronin, with his sophomore effort MCii, is poised to make a name for himself. Fresh off his collaborations with Ty Seagall on most of his albums over the last couple of years, Cronin has refined the Noise Pop lengthy fuzz guitar jams in favor of a more layered approach with his fine falsetto voice taking center stage on most of the tracks. The opener “Weight” is a mature, finely constructed pop song that drifts somewhere between Big Star and Matthew Sweet territory, with just a hint of The Beach Boys thrown in for summer fun pleasure.
“Shout it Out,” is another summer type anthemic song with fuzz guitar coming in at the right moments to put a little hair on the proceedings without veering the train off course into grunge territory. The tempo changes are nice on this record and provide a nice texture. The recording very much has a live feel to it and the more contemplative songs like “Don’t Let Me Go,” sparse things down a bit in a nice way to show the vocal range along with solid song writing.
If you like Conor Oberst in his latest incarnation you will like Mikal Cronin, and with an album or two as Power Pop satisfying as MCII, Mikal Cronin will quickly climb from out of Ty Seagall’s shadow and into his own even brighter spotlight.
The Staves – Dead,Born,and Grown
The trio collectively known as the Staves are Jessica, Camilla, and Emily Staveley-Talyor, the freshest and most angelic and beautiful voices to hit the scene since First Aid Kit in early 2012. This Glyn and Ethan Johns produced gem, the power production duo for The Rolling Stones, Ryan Adams, and Laura Marling, combines pastoral British folk with Laurel Canyon sensibilities to create an album with pitch-perfect sibling harmonies on a back-drop of lush acoustic guitars, mid-tempo beats, along with poetic songwriting.
The album, their first real full length effort, comes mainly from two previously released EP’s Mexico, and The Motherlode. English sensibilities combined with an Americana influence in the Laura Marling mold seems to be all the rage these days, and here the presentation is several notches above the norm, mostly due to the sibling chemistry.
The opener “Wisely and Slow” paints the picture exquisitely, and shows the tremendous power of their voices and the meshing of their vocals against an acoustical backdrop. “The Motherlode” sounds like three Joni Mitchells are trading vocals while three Joni Mitchells are singing background, with only the distinctly English phrasing to give away the secret that these girls are not from somewhere in the hills of Los Angeles.
Valerie June – Pushin’ Against a Stone
A true force of nature, if Valerie June did not exist, you would have to invent her. Full of full-on Appalachian charm, Pushin’ Against a Stone effortlessly floats from Patsy Cline Classic Country to home-spun old school Roots Country, all the way to Bluegrass and beyond.
It is hard to tell if this immensely talented chanteuse is more influenced by Loretta Lynn or Julie London, she evokes both to equal aplomb. Her sharp, twangy vocal turn on “The Hour” veers into torch ballad territory, and the groovalicious “Wanna Be on Your Mind” drips cool Memphis Soul. The title track puts it all together in an organ drenched psychedelic frenzy that has to be heard to be believed.
Jagwar Ma – Howlin’
Pretty much a perfect blend of the old school harmony driven pop of yesterday, and the electronic, keyboard based rock that is all the rage, Jono Ma and Gabriel Winterfield, collectively known as Jagwar Ma, have come up with a user friendly sound that should stand the test of time.
Combine The Beatles with Tame Impala along with a peppering of Pre incarceration Phil Spector, and you pretty much have this exciting, almost psychedelic band. The invigorating melodies, and the killer hooks should give this release a lot of staying power, and “Come Save Me” with the 60’s girl group vibe and the post Abbey Road Beatles template is the best song Donovan never recorded.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away
Fifteen records in, Nick Cave continues to ignore boundaries, and “Push the Sky” is definitely no exception. Much less aggressive, and a lot less frantic than his Grinderman solo efforts, but the resulting 9 songs are still atmospheric word-smithing wonders.
From the matter of fact “Jubilee Street” to the Mylie Cyrus name checking “Higgs Boson Blues” shows that Nick Cave is ready, willing, and able to take over the Lou Reed mantle.
Veronica Falls – Waiting For Something to Happen
One of the more perfectly produced albums of the year, coed foursome Veronica Falls continues to create perfect Indie-Pop vibes that are so classic, they sound fresh and new. The girl-boy interplay harmonies are wildly infectious, and double shot of energy you get from “Broken Toy,” and “So Tired” will make you want to run naked on the beach, making this one of the best surf albums of the rear. Proving they are no one-tune pony, there are several foe immensely cool influences in play here including The Pixies, The Velvet Underground, and Television with the opener “Tell Me” a Television meets REM instant classic.
Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
Stripping away her previous go-to moves of electronic dance anthem mastery in favor of a more sublime, acoustic approach, Allison Goldfrap has created an Atmospheric wonder with her latest release, Tales of Us. Putting aside her Disco-Stomp, almost Glam with a bit of T Rex swagger in favor of the more ethereal, breathy, sensual aura that she evokes here should serve her well, and earn her a whole new stable of fans. The album is full of one name titles, with each song seemingly a different character sketch. Whether it is “Thea,” “Simone,” “Laurel,” or “Jo,” It is all the same, a sultry, mood enhancing experience that when listened to with the lights turned low could actually alter your universe.
The Lone Bellow – The Lone Bellow
Based on the music explosion over the last couple of years Brooklyn, NY is making a not so little engine that could push towards unseating Austin as not only “The Live Music Capitol of the World,” but also could soon hold the crown for the most eclectic bands to come from one part of the country. The Lone Bellow are a sterling example of a band that adapts to the arena around them and molds their sound with one eye towards the environment they are in, and the other firmly implanted in their roots.
The Band, under the tutelage of singer songwriter Zach Williams, plays what they call Brooklyn Country Music, blending their Southern roots with a distinct Americana flair and an Indie rock sensibility.
The self titled album, their first, was largely written while Williams’ wife was in the hospital paralyzed from the waist down after a devastating car accident from which she survived. The songs on the record are mostly weaved around the central them of loss, dealing with being alone after the loss of a loved one, as well as love and redemption.
Don’t worry though, this is far from a downer record. The songs with titles like “The One You Should’ve Let Go,” “Two Sides of Lonely,” and “You Never Need Nobody,” are generally up-tempo reflecting the positive “on the brink” sort of space they are working in right now.
If you are looking to draw comparisons, The Civil Wars is probably a good comparative band, although they are not quite as full sounding as The Lone Bellow Bellow, and although The Civil War’s ”Barton Hollow” is a very good song, it does not quite compare to the Epic “Tree to Grow” magnum opus that is on this album. This is almost a five-star album, and an infectious pleasure that will make your ears happy.
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
It is not often that an artist comes along that gives us the same sort of goose bumps that we felt when we first heard Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley, but Katie Crutchfield and Waxahatchee provide that same sort of visceral thrill with their new album, Cerulean Salt. With a voice that is certainly counter to her somewhat waifish appearance, you don’t know whether to buy her a beer, or lend her your library card, but with relationship adverse songs like “Misery Over Dispute” and “Hollow Bedroom,” perhaps it is better to keep her at ears length.
“Dixie Cups and Jars” could be a Lucinda Williams song, and the sound is a bit sparse and grunge sounding in places, but seems to work perfectly with the vocals, and the atmospheric nuances on the record. There are enough rolling hills here to make it fun, and when the roller coaster stops, and it is time to leave, the ride home is satisfying as well.
Bryan Ferry – The Jazz Age
On of the best song interpreters on the planet, just check out Dylanesque, his tremendous album of Dylyan covers for confirmation. Bryan Ferry this time turns to his own tunes to cover. Sort of a greatest hits album with a twist, The Jazz Age covers 40 career spanning years with solo material, and plenty of Roxy Music renditions.
The arrangements are all inspired by the music of the 20’s and 30’s, and every one is a sonic marvel. “Do the Strand” swings, “Love is the Drug” is a slow blues number, and “Virginia Plain” will have you hitting the dancefloor. Best enjoyed while reading F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hemingway, The Jazz Age is one of the sexiest albums of the year.
Mark Lanegan – Imitations
Choosing, in his own eclectic way, an intoxicating mixture of contemporary songs, tried and true standards, along with songs he simply likes that are a bit on the obscure side, it all works to sonic perfection. “Solitaire,” the Neil Sedaka number, is played much more sparingly and brooding than the original, and the hipster “Mack the Knife,” is a highlight with the deliberate phrasing giving the Bobby Darin tune a bit of a Tom Waits flavor.
“You Only Live Twice,” the song originally made famous by Nancy Sinatra, is much less anthemic than the movie soundtrack, but no less effective with the dramatic delivery that Langord executes with every breath, and “I’m Not the Loving Kind,” originally written by John Cale might be the strongest song in the set.
“Pretty Colors” by Chip “Wild Thing” Taylor strays away from the original than any of the other songs, and the classic “Autumn Leaves could have been left off without anyone noticing the defection. All in all, this is a fine set by one of our favorite artists, and as such, is worthy of your attention.
Lily Kershaw – Midnight in the Garden
There is nothing like having one of your songs show up on a hit show to jump-start your album sales, but that is exactly what happened when “Ashes Like Snow” the single from Lily Kershaw’s fine new album Midnight in the Garden showed up on an episode of Criminal Minds.
The production on this record is flawless and perfectly frames Kershaw’s old school soul voice that is part Joni Mitchell Folk, and part Patsy Cline Country. The songs, mostly penned by Lily herself, are introspective, pure, and each one is more interesting than the last.
From the opening track, “Marlboro Man”, you are treated to her a capella voice for a couple of beats with the lyrics “stop/ take a moment of your life to find out where you are going/ and cross the barren land of your plan/ to the beauty of not knowing,” and you truly are treated to one of those ”you had me at hello” musical moments.
“Bathed in Blue” features a banjo, and it actually works. “As it Seems” is a meandering sort of song that features a piano and lush string arrangements with an overall arch of taking the path less travelled against a backdrop of the fragility of life. There even is a little Minnie Ripperton coo at the end of the song. It is a beauty. The song “Trouble” has a bit of a Julie London cocktail noir vibe to it that takes her in your mind’s eye from Mary Anne cute to Ginger hot in the quickest of flashes. This is good stuff.
Some of the best artists out there defy genre-ization, and Lily Kershaw is one of them. Like a rainbow, she is meant to be enjoyed not necessarily understood.
The Sufis – Inventions
The first thing that comes to mind at first listen of Inventions, the sophomore release from The Sufis, the Tennessee based Psych-Pop band composed of Calvin Laporte and Evan Smith, is that you have heard this before, and you probably have, but not since 1969.
And yes Psych-Pop is a genre, and the moniker fits this band to a T. From the opener “All of the Time” that could have been a lost demo from Revolver, and shares the same psycho head trip as “Taxman” followed immediately by “Most Peculiar Happening Cat” where you are morphed back in a yellow submarine somewhere between “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite,” and the Turtles fine, but under rated “Eleanor.” Yes the influences are worn on the bands collective record sleeves, but it is done so well and with such precision, and there is enough originality to the sound and the arrangements that everything sounds fresh and new and not copycat.
“She said to Me” raises the Byrds flag, and “The End” travels to Lovin’ Spoonful territory, once again, deliciously fresh. ”No Expression” is The Kinks from back in the days when the brothers Davies actually liked each other complete with a greasy organ, never a bad thing.
If this album were a various artist package from 1969, it would have fit in perfectly. As it is, it is a perfectly crafted surprise around every corner, hip and nostalgic sort of listen and well deserved treat for your ears.
The Wild Ponies – Things That Used to Shine
To really understand the essence of Things That Used to Shine, the latest from Wild Ponies, a band that is fronted by husband and wife team Doug and Telisha Williams, a simple listen to the opening track “Make You Mine,” truly a “you had me at hello” opening statement, is all you will need to make you want to delve deeper into the depths of this album.
“I wait for you across the room/stir my drink nice and slow this is how its gonna go/ I’m gonna make you mine.”
“I don’t wanna meet your family/ I don’t wanna meet your friends/ i just want you pulled against me/ I don’t care if it’s a sin.”
And trust me it gets better. Delivered in a Lucinda Williams earnest sounding low wail, the song sets the stage for the open up your guts songwriting that is peppered throughout the album. It is absolutely no accident that producer Ray Kennedy has worked with Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams, two artists that share some DNA with Wild Ponies.
The song “Trigger” is stunning, there no other suitable word to describe it.
“Well I swear the gun went off before I even pulled the trigger/ The blood was on his face and hands and then I saw him stagger/ He took two steps to the right and then he went down on his knees and I was looking at his eyes he was looking right past me.”
And it gets better. Just give the song a listen from the video below.
According to their web site, the band recorded the 12 songs on the album in three days using pre-amps that were once used by The Beatles, but that should not be your sole inspiration for checking out this record. This is simply an open, honest, old school Americana record that makes you feel alive by singing about the troubles other people create for themselves. From “Trouble Looks Good on You,” more of an old school country ballad to “Valentines Day” that could have been a Tammy Wynette song, there is not a bad bullet in this gun.
Heaven and Earth – Dig
Sounding like the bastard child of Machine Head era Deep Purple, and Heaven & Hell line-up Black Sabbath, this motley crew looking band of retro rockers is bringing back the sanctity of Classic Rock. The formula is a basic one, longish organ drenched anthems, guitar riffs that could peel the paint off the wall, along with a balls to the wall Coverdale meets Ronnie James Dio lead singer with back of the stadium pipes.
Presenting Old School Rock with an ”in your face,” more contemporary style, their new record Dig might not bring them the “next big thing,” recognition they deserve, it is far too pitch-perfect retro sounding for any real main stream success, but with songs like “House of Blues” that comes from the Paul Rodgers and Free hymnal, and “No Money No Love,” a stripper anthem for the new millennium, and the opener “Victorious” that begins with a Sitar and speed burns into Deep Purple “Lazy” and Highway Star” territory, this album is a must hear for nostalgic hard rockers, and those fans of real, honest, in-your face, Classic Rock style music.
To bad this doesn’t come in an eight track.
Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail
Much like Nick Lowe and Bryan Ferry, Billy Bragg is oak barrel aging quite nicely. With Tooth and Nail, his first real album since Mr. Love and Justice in 2008, he collaborates with Joe Henry to create an Americana tinged, completely contemporary sounding record recorded in 5 days in the basement of Joe Henry’s house in Pasadena California. The presence of the Dobro, pedal steel, and the subtle mandolin give Tooth and Nail the twang appeal, but it is Bragg’s hardscrabble vocals, part whisky, part scotch and all “from the gut” soul that makes this record special.
The songs themselves mostly written by Billy himself, with “Over You,” and “Your Name On My Tongue” written by Billy Bragg and Joe Henry, and the seemingly mandatory Woody Guthrie number “I Ain’t Got No Home,” mix the expected astute political observation fare with a couple of rip your heart out stunners that place the versatility of the songwriting skills on full display.
“Swallow My Pride” takes us to a place many of have been in our lives when doing the right thing is the only thing left to do, and “Goodbye,Goodbye,” one of the most beautiful songs I have heard in a long time that contains the latest inscription I want on my Tombstone.
“Goodbye to all my friends, the time has come for me to go/goodbye to all the souls who sailed with me so long/the coffee pot is cold, the jokes have all been told, the last stone has been rolled away.”
This is one of those three listen albums. Listen to it once all the way through, listen to it again with a focus on the lyrics, and then listen to it a third time.
Sirsy – Coming Into Frame
Sirsy, a band that has been in existence in one form or another for 12 years, have settled on a duo this time consisting of Rich Libutti on guitar, piano, and bass, and the uber talented Melanie Krahmer on drums, flute, and vocals. The pair easily draws Black Keys and White Stripes comparisons, however the nuanced vocals, and more varied instrumentation makes these guys a bit more of a satisfying listen.
Melanie has “sing to the back of the room” pipes but scales it back when necessary and has a tone somewhere between a much more hip Adele and a younger Cheryl Crow. All of the songs have a live feel to them with a small club energy. The songs are immediate as you would expect with a drum-centric band. “Killer” sounds like it could have been a Heart Rocker back in the day, or even a James Bond theme, it has that same anthem crescendo feel. The song “Red Letter Days” displays the strength in Melanie’s vocal style, and the Opener “Cannonball” sets the tone and the blueprint for a fun time ahead in store.
This album has a lot of Soul, heart, and Rock & Roll, sounds more like a 70′s record than a contemporary Indie Rock record, and should make Sirsy one of those over night sensations a decade in the making type of musical finds. Put Coming into Frame into your musical pipe and smoke it, you will be glad you did.
Moon Taxi – Mountains Beaches Cities
This Nashville base quintent comes on strong with this set of strong Indie Rock tunes. A little progressive sounding with a distinct Indie bent, the songs mostly slow build with agreesive guitar interludes in the middle of most of the songs.
This album has been personally endorsed by fellow Nashville resident Jack White himself.
Chris Shiflett – All Hat,No Cattle
The first thing that will surprise you is that Chris Shiflett is the lead guitar player of the Foo Fighters. The second thing that will surprise you is that this Country Rock outfit is a hell of a band, and this is no one and done side project for an artist that is known for walking on the harder side of the rock spectrum.
All Hat, No Cattle, is a brilliant, exacting tribute to The Bakersfield Sound, and a spot on homage to artists like Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, and even Merle Haggard. There is a slightly alternative Dave Alvin vibe to the record, that gives the album a more fresh and up to date sound, and it sounds like there was a hell of a good time going on in the recording studio, and the live shows for this band are most probably off the chain.
Adding to the fun as this set of mostly cover tunes comes from the more outer reaches of the Bakersfield catalogue with pearls such as Buck Owns’ ”King of Fools”, and the Merle Haggard underground classic “Skid Row”. The Faron Young epic “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young” is pure Texas honky-tonk with a little Bob Wills sprinkled in, and the Dwight Yoakam tune “Playboy” is delivered Texas Tornado style.
The Dead Peasants as a band are as tight as any road hard honky-tonk band, and could fille any sawdust covered dance floor this side of the Mississippi. Strangely enough, the closer and the most familiar of the cover songs, “Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way” is the weakest link in a very strong chain, but that would be picking nits. This is a strong album, a pleasant surprise, and a kick ass tribute to those old classic country songs from the 50′s and 60′s.
Jenny O. Automechanic
The new throwback worthy album Automechanic is part Stevie Nicks, a splash of Patti Smith, with a side order of Janis Joplin and Shelby Lynne thrown in for good measure, in other words it’s that good.
From the opening title track you can get the measure of the album with a sort of Indie Rock Fleetwood Mac vibe created by producer Jonathan Wilson, most recently found twirling the knobs for Father John Misty.
Some of the songs on this album are cool atmospheric numbers and “Come Get Me,” and “Good Love” are not only good Dance numbers in their own right but also could have come from Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk album. The blending of Neko Case style Indie Rock and the Pop fun of Father John Misty makes this a contemporary old school record if that’s even possible.
Weighing in at 11 mostly under 2:30 songs there is not enough here for Jenny to wear out her welcome, and the different nuances and textures that are added song by song make this a very interesting listen.
Jamie N. Commons – Rumble and Sway (E.P.)
This stunning record would have scored higher of it was a full player, but at a short and devasting six songs, Jamie N. Commons is announcing his presence in a big way. With a voice that floats somewhere between Bruce Springsteen and Joe Cocker, and a soulness about him that can turn day into night, every song is a symphonic wonder. “Rumble and Sway” is a highlight, “The Preacher” bring his immense songwriting talent to the forefront, and “Have a little Faith” shows off his versatile pipes. We are not sure what a few extra songs will bring to the table, but we are ready and willing to find out.
Shooter Jennings – The Other Life
Much like his old man, the venerable Waylon Jennings, Shooter Jennings wears the blaze your own trail outlaw crown to musical perfection on his latest release The a consistently cool and carefully crafted career path going back to his debut 2005 release, Put the O Back in Country, Shooter Jennings may lure you into the listening kiosk with his pedigree, and he does play the modern day outlaw role to perfection, it is actually his own unique blending of Country Roots Rock Americana with a peppering of good old fashioned Rock & Roll soul that brings you back to the party.
Where Papa relied mostly on singing other peoples songs, the offspring, and arguably the more talented Jennings, really knows his way around a song. His earlier works including the stunning “4th of July” and the autobiographical narrative “Busted in Baylor County,” a song that describes the “my cousin Vinnie” style drug bust episode while on tour in Texas, began to earn Shooter recognition as a top-notch songwriter in the Billy Joe Shaver mold, and earned him a seat at the adults table.
On this album, the songwriting was getting tighter and the vibe was becoming much more organic than the forced feeling that was coming across on his earlier efforts. This was a country album without the fancy boots and the glossy sheen, and courtesy of songs like “The Southern Family Album,” a tune that is right out of the Lynyrd Skynryd school of Southern Rock, Jennings delivers a manifesto that serves as a poke in the eye to contemporaries like Kid Rock and Hank III.
Somewhat of a sister act to Family Man, six songs from those sessions morphed their way on to The Other Life, the new record continues to play it forward with a rock solid set of songs that plays on but does not copy or exploit the family pedigree, while providing enough left turns to keep things amazingly fresh, current, and vibrant.
Willie Nelson – To All the Girls
Willie Nelson is still going strong. Just a couple of months after releasing the fine standards album Let’s Face the Music and Dance, he is back with an album this time paired up with some of his favorite female singers. The style is laid back and intimate, and the star power is off the charts. Ranging from legends like Mavis Staples, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn to contemporaries Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, not to mention soon to be legends Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, and Shelby Lynne, they are all there to celebrate his 80th birthday.
There is a lot of music packed into 80 minutes on this CD, so relax and enjoy a national treasure still in his absolute prime.
William Tyler – Impossible Truth
William Tyler is a guitarist and a much in demand session player touring with the likes of Bonnie Prince Billy, Candi Staton, and Lambchop, this versatile musician has also written songs for Eddie Rabbit, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Oak Ridge Boys, and many others.
Despite being an instrumental album, the record vey much evokes the spirit of the 70’s singer songwriter era. The songs are open and spacious, with touches of bluegrass in places, and elements of ska, and sitar music sprinkled throughout. “The Geography of Nowhere” more than subtly references “Paint it Black,” and the opus- like closer, “The World is Set Free” is worth the price of admission alone. If you listen to one instrumental album all year, you have just found the one to put on your Christmas list.
Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum
Hailing from Cardiff, Wails Cate Le Bon is carving out her own niche in the Fiona Apple, Laura Marlin, Tegan and Sara landscape. The songs are sowmewhat brooding with just enough pop-ness about them to keep things alive, and a bit less depressing. Her recent relocation to California seems to have drizzled a bit of sunshine into her sound, with “I Wish I Knew,” a lush duet with Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius, a perfect example of how the beauty of her homeland can blend perfectly with the contemporary feel of the contemporay Indie California scene.
Deep Purple – Now What?!
The purple is back, and that is a VERY good thing. In a year where classic rock Icons, Rod Stewart, Paul McCartney, Sting, and David Bowie have all released new original material, the return of Deep Purple is the best effort, and the most welcome.
A very definite return to form with most of the classic “Smoke on the Water” line-up intact incuding Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, and Steve Morse in good form.
It is a wonderment how breathtakingly un-altered their sound is on this record. The riff-laden songs are as powerful as they were in 1972, and songs like “Hell to Pay” rock as hard as “My Woman from Tokyo” did back in the day, and pays tribute to original keyboard player Jon Lord, who died in 2012 of pancreatic cancer, with an extended organ solo mid song that brings joy to the ears. The epic sounding “Vincent Price,” veers a bit to the prog rock side, which is not a bad thing either. If you like good old fashioned somewhat over the top Rock & Roll, you will love this record. And if you don’t, you soon will.
Connan Mockasin – Caramel
At first glance when you read a review where the vocal stylings reference both Bread and Prince, it may seem strange that an album like this comes anywhere near the top songs of ther year, and we felt the same way, untilof course, we listened to the entire album. Several times now.
Sort of an Acid R & B record by genre, Picture the Bee Gees slowed down to about 20 instead of 33 1/3, and you would be close. It is the ambient mood setting that grabs you and takes hold.
Floating somewhere in the early Prince, long form Marvin Gaye mold with a contemporay touch of Ariel Pink, this is a perfect backround record. You can almost hear the wine glasses touch delicately as the business at hand is about to begin.
Amos Lee – Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song
For some, polishing their sound to a more shiny, countrified, radio-friendly sound might sound the kiss of death for a career, but in the case of Amos Lee, and his sparkling new album, Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, hooking up with a couple of hot-shot Nashville producers should only serve to bring a few more ears to the party, and that is a very good thing.
With ballads like “Chill in the Air,” and the fabulous “Indonesia,” Amos Lee delivers the goods without losing touch with his troubadour roots. “The Man Who Wants You” even has a “Delta Lady” feel to it. This record is certainly a step up from the fine Mission Bell, and could be the best album of his career.
Au Revoir Simone – Move in Spectrums
Then name is taken from a minor character in a Pee Wee Herman movie, and the vibe is pure Brooklyn girl group cool. With their most sophisticated and polished effort to date, this trio of singing keyboard players have managed to create a sweeping pseudo vintage sound that grabs and doesn’t let go. With a nice sense of pacing, some songs are slower, while others have a faster spin, and “Crazy” heads to the highway and is a perfect tune to listen to while driving.
Chelsea Wolfe – Pain is Beauty
For an artist that namechecks Johnny Cash, Fleeetwood Mac, and Black Sabbath as her influences, Doom Folk artist Chelsea Wolfe releases a set of atmospheric beauties that filter Ana Calvi throuh a Kate Bush lens with her own Mistress of Darkness image. “Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter” rocks a bit, and “Sick” is an exquisite beauty. If you want to walk on the dark side without drawing any blood, Pain is Beauty may be the way to go.
This canary in a coalmine E.P. by Lydia Loveless is about all we will get until her new album is released in 2014. Another set of ballsy tell it like it is songs, Boy Crazy, released by Bloodshot Records includes a song about young boy lust when she would check out her brothers friends at baseball games on the title track, “Lover’s Spat,” where she invites a lover over to her house knowing it will not end well. He ends up naked at the side of the road, and on “All I Know” she ends up lying awake at night wondering when someone is going to come over so she can start a fight. Welcome to the wonderful world of Lydia Loveless. We can’t wait to check out the rest.
Allen Toussaint – Songbook
It is all about the sonngs on Songbook, the very appropriately named lastest release from New Orleans piano icon Allen Toussaint. Recorded in 2009 at Joe’s Pub in New York City after he was forced to relocate after hurricane Katrina, we are treated to the original Piano Man alone with his instrument.
There are plenty of “he wrote that” moments to enjoy here including “It’s Raining,” a song he wrote for Irma Thomas, “Brickyard Blues” made famous by Three Dog Night, and the best break up song ever “Get Out of My Life, Woman.”
There is not a bad song here with “Lipstick Traces,” served up boogie-woogie style is a keeper, and the Glan Campbell covered “Southern Nights” takes on a life of its own presented here, in it’s original form.
The instrumental version of “St. James Infirmary” will have you sitting in The French Quarter having an absinthe drip in no time.
“Woke up on the wrong side of rock bottom, you are all out of pennies an the well has done run dry.” These are the opening stab you in the gut lyrics from Same Trailer Different Park, the stunning new album from Kacey Musgraves. Southern Noir songwriting that features wrong side of the track narratives have long been a staple for artists crossing all genres, but Musgraves, the latest Alternative Siren to join the fray, may have taken redneck noir to a new level.
From “My House,” a perfect song for a summer road trip that sings the virtues of living in a recreational vehicle, to “Merry Go ‘Round,” the theme of something bigger and better just around the corner exudes from every pore of this record. The song pacing goes from slower to mid-tempo never straying into country rocker territory keeping the authenticity intact.
Kacey Musgraves just might be the next best thig in country music.
Queens of the Stone Age – … Like Clockwork
Like Clockwork is probably the best pure rock album of the year. This time around, Josh Homme has assembled another group of stellar musicians around him that includes Mark Lanegan, Arctic Momkey Akex Turner, Scissor Sistor Jake Sheers, his artistic muse Dave Grohl, along with Trent Reznor and Sir Elton John, yes that Elton John. The songs all have a bit of a crunch to them, and are best surved up at high volume. The atmosphere is a bit dense, and several of the songs, most notably “The Vampyre of Time and Money,” have a bit of a Bowie feel to them.
“Fairweather Friends” is the Elton John Collaboration, and is one of the hardest rocking of the lot. The song features a nasty fuzz guitar solo, and some fine backing vocals. Recorded on Matador records, the album seems to be a bit looser than recent efforts, and free of the more corporate stranglehold of Interscope records, Homme has been able to create a large, muscular, rock opus for the ages.
Blitzen Trapper – VII
Blitzen Trapper is one of those heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend sort of bands. In the back of the recesses of your brain you remember hearing something about these Country Rock guys from Portland, but you never cam remember when, or where.
If 2012’s excellent American Goldwing wasn’t enough to check these guys out, then their 7th album, the appropraitely named VII should be your gateway drug. Falling somwhere between Pure Prairie League, The Allman Brothers, and Kings of Leon, this is Country Music on steroids.
Become more focused with each subsequent album release, with songs like “Feel the Chill,” that has sort of a Beck feel to it, and “Neck Tats and Cadillacs,” that is Country Gospel tinged Redneck Noir at its best. This is a coat of many textures album that has a surprise around ever corner.
Boy – Mutual Friends
Sort of a female Simon and Garfunkel for the new millenium, Boy are the Hamburg, Germany based pop duo of Valeska Steiner and Sonja Glass. Originally released in their native country in 2011, and shared with American ears in 2013, Mutual Friends is a bouncy, well written pop music gem that will ear worm its way into your skull after just a few short listens. Falling somewhere between Feist and Regina Spektor, the vibe here is pure pop of the 70’s variety. The melodies share a Fleetwood Mac sensibility, and the songwriting is from the perspective of a twenty something female, which is good since this is what they are.
You have heard “Little Numbers” even though you may not realize it. It has been prominately featured in several main stream commercials over the last 12 months. Whether they are singing about leaving home for the first time, giving out their digits, or finding their sexual identity, there is a lot of sincerity in their work, and there is a message for all ages.
Black Star Riders – All Hell Breaks Loose
About as close as you can come to Thin Lizzy without bringing Phil Lynott back, four of the five members of Black Star Riders have been in various incarnations of Thin Lizzy, and Scott Gorham is a Phl Lynott era member having been with the band since 1974. Never straying far from the three chords and a cloud of dust Lizzy formula, singer Ricky Warwick does a great job in stepping into the shoes and has the former front man’s phrasing and tonal qualities down to a shamrock tee, he also happens to be the sole Irishman in the band.
Musically their fiery brand of Emerald Isle Folk Rock has a timeless quality to it, with nods to Irish stalwarts The Waterboys and The Pogues with a bit of balladry thrown in for good measure.
The title track is straight ahead 70’s Rock and Roll, and “Hoodoo Voodoo” is cowbell perfection and bit Blue Oyster Cult sounding. This album would have been perfectly placed in 1978, and now, here in 2013, it is a delicious slice of Irish Rock heaven best enjoyed with a pint of Guinness.
Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In
It is a little bit difficult to categorize Caitlin Rose. On on one hand, she seems to be a semi-shy pop songstress, the pure as the driven snow good sister to Lydia Loveless’ bad sister. On the other hand, there seems to be a bit of the Alternative Country vixen about her on “Old Numbers,” a sultry vampy sort of a number, and 80’s Power Pop Godess in the Belinda Carlisle mode on “Menagerie.” Whichever road you want to take to describe her, it is an enjoyable ride.
The power of versatility is definitely a good thing, and on songs like “Waitin'” her vocal strength is showcased. While it is not quite back of the barroom material, her nuanced delivery, along with her ability to deliver the goods and stand up to the different textures each song requires gives each track a life of its own.
To sum it up think Patsy Cline, Lida Ronstadt, and Fleetwood Mac, and you would come close to the vibe of Caitlin Rose, very much a star on the rise.
Fitz and the Tantrums – More than Just a Dream
With their Motown sound, Stax Records coolness, and Indie Pop sensibilities, Retro Soul Rockers Fitz and the Tantrums might be the most fun band on the planet. Formed around an old church organ that leader Michael Fitzpatrick purchased, the template of foot moving songs with a gospel groove was honed to soul stirring perfection with their breakout hit “Moneygrabber” in 2010.
Their latest release More Than Just a Dream plays the Pop-Dance formula forward with a whole lot of 60’s soul and buckets of cool R&B vibes.
Updated a bit with some additional synth work and electronics, this new effort has touches of New Wave, Disco, and Brill Building Doo Wop added to the already eclectic mix.
Fitzpatrick and Noelle Scaggs continue to share the vocal duties with “Out of My League,” 6:00 A.M,” and “Spark” standing out as highlights on an every song is a winner set. Forget Soul Train, put this album on and dance the night away.
The Olms – The Olms
The Olms are likely one of a few bands on this list you may not be familiar with. Relatively new, they formed in 2011, the Olms are the songwriting duo of J.D. King and Pete Yorn, one of the new wave of Power Pop Princes. Their sound is decidely retro with elemnts of Pirate Radio Britt Pop, Laurel Canyon Cosmic Cowboy, and 60’s Haight Ashbury Psychedelic Rock. In other words, they are a combination of everything that is good and holy in music.
Trading off on vocals and playing all of the instruments, Yorn and King have created an organic and relaxed album that brings to mind The Everly Brothers, Poco, The Loving Spoonful, Donovan, with even The Walker Brothers making an appearance here and there.
The songs can get a little bubble gum in places, but that is a minor fault. “Someone Else’s Girl” could have been a hit in 1966, and “A Bottle of Wine, etc.” even bears a passing resemblance to The Tremelos album of almost the same name.
These guys would definitely been a hit on Top of the Pops, and we can’t wait for them to record a covers album.
Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Kurt Vile’s Wakin on a Pretty Daze is one of the best albums of 2013, and “Wakin on a Pretty Day” is one of the very best songs of the year, top 10 in fact. Philadelphia singer songwriter Vile earned acclaim with his 2011 release Smoke Rings on My Halo, and now with this new record, the hype an the buzz should only get louder. Fairly laid back in structure, a sort of fog envelops you with a lengthy listen, and you are engulfed in the same sort of feeling you get just before going under while you are on the operating table. Weighing in at a healthy nine minutes plus, the sort-of title track has a Crazy Horse rambling sort of feel to it that is best experienced with a cigar and a good bottle of scotch.
The song “KV Crimes” has a real Classic Rock feel to it with the hint of a cowbell, never a bad thing. There is a real working class Mellencamp,Springsteen vibe throughout the album, and fans of Neil Young will love this record. With back of the throat vocals, Vile makes you sit up and listen, and with songs a bit on the dreamy side like “Never Run Away” Wilco also comes to mind.
Proving he is no one trick pony, the best is probably yet to come, and this record will definitely stand the test of time.
In what is sure to be one of the more pleasant surprises of 2013, Aaron Neville hits us up with My True Story, an album of old-school doo-wop hits that he grew up singing. This album coolly co-produced by Don Was and Keith Richards, features The Ageless One himself along with pedal steel virtuoso Greg Liesz on guitar along with Benmont Tench on keyboards.
On the surface, the thought of Neville covering doo-wop, a somewhat under served musical genre that combines Motown, Gospel, Stax Soul, and early Rock & Roll, vocal styles that are right in Aaron’s wheelhouse, seems a bit off-putting, but when you peel a couple more layers from the onion it gets even better, with the hipness quotient turned up several notches with the Keith Richards subtly perfect fret work and the minimalistic approach to production that lets the elephant in the room, Neville’s pure tone-perfect voice, take over and take charge.
The songs selected for this journey back into the 50′s are also first-rate and eclectic. The Curtis Mayfield classic “Gypsy Woman” gets a slightly slowed down and more mournful treatment, while ”Tears on My Pillow” cuts through ether and wafts to the heavens on the wings of angels. Nor really, but it is pretty damn good. The medley of “This Magic Moment,” and “True Love,” could be played a bit gimmicky, but it actually has a coolness all its own.
Having prepared myself to not like My True Story, the laid-back, soulful approach that was taken here grabbed me by my ear lobes and penetrated my bones in a good way. This is not your circa Linda Ronstadt pop sell out Aaron Neville. This is a true vocal master that has paired himself with the best in the business to keep himself very much on the music radar.
Kopecky Family Band – Kids Raising Kids
Not a family at all, The Kopecky Family Band is a group of like minded Melodic Folk loving individuals led by founder Kelsey Kopecky. The sonic palette delivered here is wide, expansive, and mostly jubilant. Much in the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s mold, this Sunshine Pop is somewhat of a cross between California Pop and British invasion, with soaring harmonies and Byrdsian guitars.
The anthemic “Wandering Eyes” is truly a pop gem and is the centerpiece of the album. Opening with scattering horns, ending with atmospheric guitars, with some fine ear-worm worthy layered harmony in the middle, this is some real good stuff.
The rest of the album never really rises to the level of “Wandering Eyes,” but with songs like “Heartbeat,” and the truly loveable “Hope” the stage is definitely set for a real stunner of an album in the very near future.
London Grammer – If You Wait
This young British trio led by Vocalist Hannah Reid and her powerfully emotive voice that could give Florence Welch a run for her money, might be poised to be the next big thing in British music in 2014. With an electronic pop reverb guitar sound that is similiar to that of The XX, the emotional landscape that is created keeps your attention throughout the album. The Opener “Hey Now” with a stunning introduction to the powerful vocals, has you at hello, and “Wasting My Young Years” is a slow burn synth rock marvel.
The ballad “Strong” is powerful and is a signature tune for the album. This is another of those bands where their best work is probably ahead of them, but there is no need to wait to experience one of the truly fresh and unique voices in music today.
Shovels and Rope – O’ Be Joyful
With a voice that travels somewhere between Dolly Parton and Lucinda Williams Cary Ann Hearst along with her husband and partner Michael Trent have created a fresh sound that is rooted in Americana, with just enough lines in the Roots Rock pond to keep things contemporary and fresh. Having opened for the likes of Justin Townes Earle, Hayes Carll, and The Felice Brothers, the duo is flying just under the radar right now, but it is not too early to buy your tickets on the bandwagon, but do it soon, seats are going fast.
Cool enough to have a cover version of “Hells Bells” featured on HBO’s Trueblood series, their debut album is an intoxication mix of Goth Folk with a distinct Southern Noir attitude that would make Jack White proud. The June and Johnny vocals on songs like “Lay Low,” with simple voices and a mandolin, mixing and matching with bombastically interesting “Hail Hail,” hail hail Rock & Roll that is, makes for an adventure around every turn listen.
Dark, atmospheric, and gothic as presented on “Shank Hill St,” light, uplififting, and joyful on the title track, this record has it all. Let’s just hope the partnership is as strong as this record. We want to hear more.
Primal Scream – More Light
It is not often that an 80’s Indie rock band with the pedigree of Primal Scream can come back after an absence of many years with a perfomance that can stand next to the best work they have ever done, but that is exactly what Primal Scream has done with their latest release, More Light. A chameleon like band that has been known to switch genres from album to album dabbling in Jangle Pop, Stones Boogie, and even Acid House over the years, The band settles in here on their first proper release since 2008 with a soul stirring blend that seems to include bits and pieces from each of their prior personalities.
Combining Brit Pop, Hard Rock, Jazz, with a dash of Psychedlic Free-Form, the sound has a certain timeless quality. They certainly aren’t playing it safe here, Robert Plant takes a guest turn on “Elimination Blues” that has a doors quality about it, and the truly amazing opening track “2013” that weighs in at a sturdy 9:01, seems to put all of the worlds together in one package, and is truly jaw dropping.
Eleven albums and over 25 years in, Bobby Gilespie and the boys in Primal have announded their presence and declared themselves ready to embrace the future and go toe to musical toe with the best of the current bands, and if songs like the closer “It’s All Right, It’s Ok” are any indication, they won’t even have to move to Brooklyn to do it.
Lorde – Pure Heroine
Somewhat of an overnight sensation with the hit single “Royals” seemingly everywhere at once Lorde has produced on of the overall best albums of the year. Participating herself in the songwriting process, the album seems to have an unexpted depth to it beyond the hit single. Sure “Royals” is catchy as hell, and you have trouble getting it out of your heard hours after hearing it, but there are some other gems to be enjoyed here as well.
The songs are moody mosty with beats that drive into your skull in a good way. Given that she was only 16 when most of the songs on this album were written makes it even more impressive, especially given the mature word play on songs like “Ribs” and the closer “A World Alone.”
Time will tell when it comes to winning the pop songstress battle over Lana Del Rey among other, but our money is on Ella Yelich O’Connor. You know her as Lorde.
Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
Brooklyn based Garage Punk band Parquet Courts didn’t set out trying to reinvent a genre, and in the process create an entirely new one, but they may have just done both with their 2013 release Light Up Gold. Garage Rock has pretty much been around since the the early sixties, but rarely has this type of slacker rock been done as brilliantly as these guys. Taking some influence from bands like Pavement, The Ramones, and the Fall, they combine parts of their Texas upbringing with their new surroundings in New York to create a sometimes messy, often times brilliant clash of a sound that is energetic, immediate and infectious.
The band members themselves dubbed their sound Americana Punk, a description that pretty much comes as close to right on the money, and “Stoned and Starving” has now become the signature for this new form of musical expression. There is an over arching melody to these punk based tomes, and the guitar work while not overly intricate, carries the day on several of the songs with some really bad-ass fuzz guitar leads.
“Light Up Gold II” follows the quick intro of “Light up Gold I” and sounds a bit like Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” and N. Dakota takes you back to early day Stooges territory, but that is just about where the comparisons stop. This is a wholly original work that sounds like nothing on the musical landscape today. And that is a very good thing.
The shouting matches is yet another side project put together by Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon. More of a straight ahead Blues Rock record than you might expect, this record has a bit of a Tom Petty feel to it. Vocally Vernon sounds almost nothing like his Bon Iver projects, the falsetto is pretty much missing in favor of a more staright ahead Rock vocal. “Seven Sisters” could have been on an early John Couger Mellencamp record, and “Heaven Knows” has a bit of a Led Zeppelin feel to it.
The country stomp of “Mother,When” has some Boooker T worthy organ work, and sounds like it was a whole lot of fun to record. The Stax fueled “New Theme” would have worked perfectly as an instrumental, and the extended soloing delivered here is a high point of the album, with “Three Dollar Bill” the actual instrumental on the album, a little too meandering.
The record has the non-cohesive feel of a side project, but that is part of the beauty here. This is an album by people who love good music, made for people who love good music. A smashing success on all fronts.
Deap Vally – Sistrionix
Mixing a scorching hot image and an incindiery live show, Deap Vally, the all female duo, combines the greasy blues of The White Stripes with the rock vibe of The Black Keys to create a sound all their own. Sistrionix, their debut album is a symphony of lust, love, drugs, partying, and drinking all from a woman’s perspective.
The combination of Lindsey Troy’s Led Zeppelin riffs, and the maniacal drumming of Julie Edwards along with the unbridled enthusiasm they demonstrate on each of the tracks makes this about the most fun album of ther year. The vocal wail on “End of the World” will grow hair on the bald, and “Bad For My Body” promotes hedonism. In a good way of course.
“Six Feet Under” reaches epic proportions and is best heard very loud, and “Walk of Shame” is a literal shout out to the morning after and is likely to bring back some not so pleasant memories. If the album has a flaw it might be the sameness in aggression and tempo. If this dynamic duette can keep up the energy and don’t let success or corporate honks spool the vibe, this chicks will go far.
As the driving force and lead singer for his former band Wolfmother, Andrew Stockdale combines all that was good in 70’s Arena Rock, psychedlic jams, and good old fashioned put your hair on fire Rock & Roll, and that is exactly what you get with Keep Moving, the first album recorded under his own name.
Stockdale’s signature voice, sort of a combination of Robert Plant and Ozzy Osbourne, carries the day here on some really juicy Rock and Roll anthems. A bit more listener friendly than the Wolfmother albums, this is an old school rock album with a present day sensibility. Sounding in parts like early Pink Floyd, and in others coutesy of some real down and dirty organ playing has a Steepenwolf and Deep Purple vibe.
Despite the Classic Rock influences, derivitive this album is not. At a seomewhat lenghthy 16 songs, there is not a dud in the mix. If you long for the old school day on the green rock experience you Rock and Roll ship has come in.